Little Warsaw: Instauratio
The Message of Indifference
An Interview with Lívia Páldi
You were personally involved with realizing the “Who if not We…”component of the “Surfacing” show – and you have seen the “Time and Again” exhibition where Little Warsaw’s “Instauratio” was first shown. How would you evaluate the success of this exhibition?
I consider this exhibition to be sad, and quite average (boring, actually), because it has become obvious that the curators are not interested in either Eastern Europe, or the artistic activity there, or the changes that have come about there over the last fifteen years. Their selections were safe and predictable. The general nature of the chosen theme meant that the exhibition is wide-ranging and general, with no aim to seek out new perspectives and approaches, but just to be “safe.” Even the way the works communicate with each other is cool, distant, and “polite.”
This “safe” selection that you mention – how close is this to the institution’s stated position?
This exhibition more or less reflects the way the Stedelijk Museum works in its present configuration. There probably was some reason for their choices that ties them to place and context, but as I look at the show, they seem to me to me just half-conscious decisions. I have been unable to sense real interest from them in the selection of individual works, or their arrangement on display. There was no passion, if you will.
Weren’t they keeping their distance on purpose?
It is an intelligent show because it recognizes its own limitations, but keeping its distance also sends a message of indifference. In this connection, we should look at Little Warsaw. Once the curators start working with a group of artists so strongly tied to one location, and based in such an unusual culture, then they have to take a more active hand, and think it through more completely; it’s not enough for them just to place an order. By the way, this exhibition is worth comparing with Kathrin Rhomberg’s Ausgeträumt  that reflects on the state of things just after the democratic changes: as its title reflects, the curator located the show somewhere between disillusionment and consciously suspended dreaming. There are several artists on display at the Stedelijk who also appeared in Rhomberg’s show, where the theme was also time (specifically the relationship – actual or construed – between past, present, and future, a reflection on the new relationship between East and West since the political changes. Rhomberg in fact took questions raised by the research of Manifesta 3 and pursued them further, reformulating them. Compared to that, Time and Again is a step backward, and did more to increase the artists’ commercial value than to show new aspects of their work.
How could those local contexts be reproduced and interpreted here?
Not very well. The possibilities that dwell in the artworks were not revealed or made use of. Part of the curator’s task is to define the place and potential of a work even within the museum context, through the chosen juxtapositions with other works.
How is Little Warsaw’s presence felt at this exhibition?
It is well known that the pedestal was put in front of the building because it simply did not fit inside; the statue humbly stands there in the front hall. Let us not forget that this is not an artistic concept; the original idea was for the statue to be part of the exhibition in its original form.
But still, the viewer has no idea that this was meant to be so. Often, chance occurrences begin to acquire meaning.
That may be, but when we look at other works that have a similar context, we can see that everything is planned out before the opening with unbelievable precision, with all the requirements and limits considered. In the case of Little Warsaw’s works and exhibitions, I think you often see the strange situation of an odd cluelessness whenever problems like this come up. This is partly a problem that should be solved through collaboration with the exhibiting institutions and the curators.
Here the issue is how closely the concept is part of the work itself.
I see a lot of situations where the mere presence of the work is not enough to make it comprehensible. In this case, important information about the statue was displayed on the pedestal (and remained ignored). Inside the museum, there was no way to know what the piece was doing there, or why it was on planks. Even with the sign next to it, it failed to generate questions or interest – though this applies to the entire exhibition, as I mentioned earlier, and does not mean the project is without value in itself. Furthermore, I feel the statue blends, disappears into the building. In order for a piece like this to function properly, the right display strategies need to be worked out: how can this story be presented in its new context? How can it be made capable of interpretation, how can the viewer be inspired to relate to it? From this standpoint, this was a poor solution.
Budapest, January 17, 2005
Interviewed by: Nikolett Erőss
Translated by: Jim Tucker
1 19. 11. 2001 – 03. 03. 2002, Secession, Vienna